The #1 Most Effective Habit

[This was a guest post I did over the weekend at TechCrunch].

There was a girl at the party, Ona, who then started telling me how she met her current boyfriend. She just simply told him she liked him. I was insanely jealous right then of this guy. Here was this beautiful, hysterically funny girl who told a guy she liked him and now he was having regular sex with her.

That doesn’t happen, right? It never happened to me. I sat there nodding, not being able to say anything but thinking, what if she said, “I like you” to me right then. I would’ve been happy. Instead, I got depressed and went to sit on the stairs.

There was another girl there. She was crying.I tried to comfort her by telling her I was an artist. I then asked her why she was crying. Apparently the party was actually her birthday party! I had no idea. I didn’t even know who she was. And she was crying because her boyfriend didn’t show up.

Within a week we were living together. Ultimately it didn’t work out and I did my usual passive thing, which was to move to another city (in this case, NYC), to get out of the relationship.

In Stephen Covey’s Book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” his first habit is “Be Proactive.” I haven’t read the book. I saw the list on Wikipedia. I WILL NOT buy the book because at this moment it’s the #1 book on Amazon under Motivation on the Kindle and I am #2. How can he be #1 after 22 years? Beating the new, fresh, me! Stephen Covey, I’m coming after you!

But it makes me think – unfortunately he’s dead on. In fact, Being Proactive might be the only effective habit. I read the other six and they all seemed to be corollaries of the  first one.

–          When I started my first company, Reset, I showed my brother-in-law the Internet so he could start learning design for it. And then I hired Reset from my perch at HBO to do HBO’s website. I was insanely proactive in getting the company off of the ground. When I wanted to sell the company I didn’t wait for buyers. I proactively went after everyone who was buying companies in the space. And screw you, Razorfish, for ignoring me.

(Reset’s first version of the HBO website)

–          When I was trading for hedge funds I sent out about 20 emails every weekend to new potential investors. Altogether I probably sent out over 1000 emails. Most of them ignored me. Over the course of a year about 14 allocated money for me to trade.

–          When I started Stockpickr, I spec-ed out the site, had India mock up a few pages, and showed the  CEO of what I was working on. I had spent less than $1000 on it at that point. He wanted to be  involved and eventually it grew into a good business. If I had just said to him, “let’s do a social media business in Finance”, it would not have worked. I would’ve become a consultant rather than an entrepreneur. You have to DO things to succeed. Nobody is just going to give you money. This is why being as proactive as possible is important.

–          Ona was proactive in meeting her boyfriend. He was never going to ask her out. So she told him she liked him and they started going out. She was proactive.

–          Before I met Claudia, I was sending out probably 50 messages a day on dating services. That’s the sheer quantity I had to do in order to meet someone I liked and it worked. And I screwed it up so badly, as I’ve written before. She wrote to me that she was from Buenos Aires and I said, “oh, I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil.” And she wrote back, “uhh, Buenos Aires is in Argentina!” Ugh, what an idiot I am!  I can’t believe she agreed to go on a date with me after that.  But if I hadn’t been sending out 50 messages a day I never would’ve met her. To top it off, I really was hoping Buenos Aires was in Brazil. I would save at least four hours on any plane rides. Oh well.

(Claudia looking very suspicious, minutes after we were married)

–          Whenever I want to guest post in another blog, I write the post first, and then I send it to them, and I ask them if they want to guest post it. It almost always works. Very few times has someone reached out to me and said, “can you write for us.” It’s almost always me proactively chasing it.

Here’s the proactive plan:


–          Proactively list what you want (a spouse, a new job, a new business, a new opportunity)

–          List what the next step is (sign up for dating services, take a yoga class, look at classifieds, spec out your business, decide how you will build your product, contact the people who will build it and get a price from them, ask people if you can work for them, etc.) Make sure the next step is very doable. So doable that you can (and will) do it TODAY.

(I do all my lists on waiter's pads. They are cheap and prevent extended prose).


–          Quickly determine what doesn’t work. For instance, if I went to 100 bars trying to meet women, none of them would work. Similarly, when I set up I set up 10 other websites at the same time. None of them got any traction and I stuck with the one that did.


–          If you want a new job, proactively go out and get another one. Preferably freelance : think about what you do best, and then do it for three paying customers. Contact 30 customers and ask what simple services you can do for them that they would be willing to pay for. Three of them will respond and now you can quit your job.

–          If you want to raise money: Contact 100 VCs or angels and share with them your business. If they all say “no” then build up for six months, send them all notes on your progress EVERY MONTH, and go out and raise money again six months later. If you have no progress then start a new business. It didn’t work.

Another example: when a book publisher once  rejected me, I wrote back to her saying that I fit perfectly with her list, describing how I could publicize the book with the different branches of her own company, I would make all changes she wanted, I would work with a co-author, etc and wouldn’t you know it – she published my book that she had rejected. It was an easy book to write (my co-author did a lot of the writing) and I got an advance and made money. It never would’ve happened if I hadn’t researched her and proactively chased her down.


–          If you want publicity, write your own publicity. Write a guest post for a popular blog. If you want to go on TV, contact the producers of shows and give them ten ideas of what you can talk about and why they should pick you to talk about them. Example: I have no credentials in politics but I wrote a post about a year or so ago for the Huffington Post on who the possible third party candidates could be. Next thing I was on five radio shows talking about it. Suddenly I was a political expert.

Another example: In 2002, I wrote Jim Cramer an email with the subject line: “10 ideas for articles you should write”. He liked the ideas I wrote in the email. But he said, “Why don’t YOU write them”. And that began my financial writing career.


–          If you want health, proactively get it. You know when you are putting bad stuff in your body, when you’re not sleeping enough, when you’re not exercising enough, when you’re letting short-term pleasures get in the way of longer-term gratification . Proactively make sure that when you’re 80 you’re not stooped over and suffering.

(don't forget to exercise)


–          Of course one way to make more money is to spend less. Cut out the biggest expenses in your life. Even rent or mortgage. It’s no crime or shame to move someplace else. I’ve done it repeatedly when I’ve needed to. That’s how you live happier and longer.


–          If someone is making you angry how do you be proactive? That’s easy. Ignore them! Don’t try to fight them. You’ll never win. Do you think you are going to win an argument against a friend, parent, or boss who hates you? Of course not. Ignore them until they stop hating you. Now that entire problem is gone.


–          So today, write down the five things you want and what the absolute very next step is to getting those things (if you want to start a business, for instance, write down some ideas for businesses and how you can realistically start them within the next month). If you’re at a loss, here are my suggestions and it goes along with the Daily Practice I recommend:

– write down 2 goals for what you Physically want out of life and then how you are going to get those things incrementally accomplished TODAY.

– write down 2 goals for what you Emotionally want out of life

– write down 2 goals what you Mentally or Creatively want out of life

– write down 2 goals for what you Spiritually want out of life and how you can go about getting those things

(I did beat out Covey for about 15 seconds. Click here if you want to buy it and get the promotion I describe).


You can come up with a lot of reasons for not proactively beginning something. Excuses are easy and I get it. But how about take a ten day diet from excuses. You can get back to your “I can’ts” 10 days from now. If I said, “I can’t start Stockpickr, I’m running a fund of hedge funds.” then I never would’ve started it and sold it nine months later. If I said, “I can’t self-publish – nobody will buy it” then I never would’ve had for 15 seconds the #1 best selling Motivational book on Amazon’s kindle store, BEATING OUT Stephen Covey’s crappy little book.

After I was dating Sue for two years (the girl whose birthday party it was in the beginning of this post), I went shopping for an engagement ring. My friend, Peter, went down to the main store in Pittsburgh with me. There was an emerald ring that looked nice and it was $700. I was shaking. That was a lot of money to me.

There were so many pretty girls walking around the store and I fell in love with all of them. It was an honest and sincere love I felt for every woman walking around. I wanted to marry them all. Right then. And had lots of babies with them.

Later that night I came home and told Sue I wasn’t ready to get married yet. A year later we were broken up. Probably the most effective habit: Don’t be proactive about the things you don’t want to do. Else you’ll die.




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  • Zean Qin


  • Caromusa

    “Don’t be proactive about the things you don’t want to do. Else you’ll die”.
    That’s great advice! many times we just do things because we “should”, and don’t listen to that inner voice telling us that we shouldn’t, that it’s bad for us, that it brings the worst out of us (could be a job, a relationship, you name it). 
    Quitting things we don’t want allows us to pursue things we want. My dad always says: “when you go one way, you don’t go the other way” (or something like that). Seems silly, but it’s very wise. Freeing time, energy, resources, to go after what we truly want.
    Besides, it’s 1000 times harder to be proactive with things we hate. It’s like the universe telling us to go another way. That means something, we should listen. That’s what I started doing in my life, and it feels GOOD.

  • Are we going to see James Altucher “I Was Blind But Now I See” stores in airports across the country? 

  • James, reading through this article I kept thinking, “He’s right. I need to be more proactive. I should be looking for a steady job of some sort so I don’t run out of money.”

    Then you threw all my thoughts into a totally different zone with that last line. “Done be proactive about things you don’t want to do. Else you’ll die.” 

    Thank you, James. For saving me once again. 

  • Luisa Perkins

    James, you’re such a genius. I love it.

  • Jerry

    At what point in my life I had actually pretty much everything I wanted, seriously. It didn’t work. Period

    I wasn’t happy, not even close and simply wanted to achieve more, have more, a bigger group of people to like me, love me and praise me. But deep down I had a feeling that that would not work either.

    Then I lost everything–career, home and most of my family. I ended up working for minimum wage in the back lot of a hardware store literally 1,000 miles away. Because some people I met were willing to to spend a considerable amount of time and effort (for no apparent reason whatsoever), I learned how to be content and actually achieved a considerable amount of serenity. The beginings of an understanding of how I fit into the tapestry of the universe was the key.

    It’s not what you have (or don’t have), who’s around (or not around) nor the victories and defeats.

    Great post James, thank you.

  • Julian

    I’m fairly proactive. And also a world class expert at procrastination. Doing X is on my to-do list, it’s easy, very doable, I want it, I know I can do it, I am just waiting for the right time to start. Which is anytime. Of course. And this is where I often fail to convince myself that anytime means “now”.

    > Don’t be proactive about the things you don’t want to do.

    That’s the hard part. If I am not sure about it, should I go for it or not? Later…

    Cutting losses is not easy either. There is the enthusiastic phase at the beginning of any project, then things get tough, then later it starts working. Sometimes. The difference between “it won’t work” and “I’m discouraged” being that the latter can be fixed (not always), while the former is definitely a case for “cut losses” (as in “don’t waste energy and time trying to fix it”).

    Also, it is vital to know when and how to get out of stuff you no longer want to do in order to focus on new things. Lacking proactivity (or saying “yes” when you want “no”) there is a highway to burnout, and gets you there faster than you think.

  • with this post I predict you will pass Covey… a nice proactive measure to take you to the top on amazon.

    • James Altucher

      From your tweet to God’s twitter account.

  • Graham

    James, you’re a star. A fountain of entertainment. Your willingness to bare your soul makes you a jedi of the highest order.

  • Great post… thoroughly enjoyed over and over. Claudia looks very pretty, lucky guy.

  • Dr. MJG

    James, thanks very much for this article. I enjoyed reading it. I will surely buy the book. Dr. MJG

  • I woke before sunrise today because I wanted to.  I planned it, and accomplished it…..

    I am passing this post on to a few people who need some additional guidance….who doesn’t?

    Thanks James..

  • James, I really enjoy reading this blog. I’ve been looking around for good blogs to read as I try to hone my own writing. I checked out the Time Magazine Best 25 Blogs of 2011 at,29569,2075431,00.html. They were all dumb compared to your blog. You’ve found a niche audience called, “Everyone who doesn’t want to read BS.” Keep it up.

  • I guess I should get a Kindle.

  • GaryF

    Yes, most every success story starts with proactivity – entrepreneurs, musicians, artists, presidents and on and on.  BUT…when you read all these books, hear the stories, but you still can’t bring yourself to do these things…is that really the key – bringing yourself to do things you know are the right things to do?
    How many people know how/why to lose weight, and want to, but can’t?  Etc. for you name it – getting a date, getting a job, changing jobs, volunteering……

    One day, the person just quits smoking, just stops eating sweets and starts exercising, just walks up to the owner at a party and says you need to hire me.  What happens on that “one day”?  What changed? What caused that person to finally get over the laziness/fear/disbelief…???

  • This is one of the most useful posts I’ve read.


    The advice given here is applicable to most every phase of life. Otherwise, you can consign yourself to a life of regrets and wondering “what if?”. It gives a great view on the road to re-invention, which I think is something that we all need to do a few times during our lifetimes.

    I especially like the “Get Publicity” suggestion. I’ve recently been using the comments portion of these great posts to push my own blog and have gotten lots of new readers and a nice bump in my own book sales, Option to Profit.

    .Best of all, the readers come from Altucher Confidential stay on the site, navigate through it and come back.

    So James, thanks for the great life lessons. You’re never too old to learn from someone else and thanks for helping me to re-invent myself.

    By the way, Szelhamos Rules is Financial/humor blog dedicated to memory of my father, who was a Holocaust survivor with a very unique sense of humor.

  • Anonymous

    “The universe rewards action”

    Don’t remember where I heard that, but its stuck with me. Congrats on your 15 seconds of glory. I think Covey’s book has always been overrated. I don’t believe in one size fits all solutions or do-this-and-you’ll-be-happy-and-productive type strategies. Life isn’t like that – just way too messy. BTW yours is on my list, but its about 5 back.

    FYI, you’re absolutely nutty when it comes to women  ;  )

    • Please god, let me get better. re:women.

      • Anonymous

        As long as Claudia likes your nuttiness, you don’t need to get better…

      • ama

        I agree with ca2nc, it sounds like you’re in a terrific relationship. But also, speaking as a woman, your honesty about really liking women and really wanting them to like you back is pretty endearing.

      • Go check out DOUBLE YOU DATING. It will help you tremendously.

  • David Horwitz

    Thank you again very much for helpful, relatable advice!

  • Jon Spooner

    I fake myself into believing you are writing only to me when I get your new posts in my inbox. Alas my bubble is burst when I click to comment and TONs of folks have commented, liked, tweeted and plused you already. But I don’t care – the suspension of disbelief caused by your prosaic naked honesty keeps me deluded and glad to have you as a friend and motivator. 
    thank you

    • Jon, I am only writing to you. They are all eavesdropping.

  • Of the hundreds (thousands?) of posts I’ve read by the best blog writers around the world, this is now my #1. Forget reading endless “10 ways to get people to read your blog, so that you can then get invited to speak at conferences, so that you can then maybe write a book, so that you can then become rich…” posts, JUST DO IT!

  • Guest

    “I tried to comfort her by telling her I was an artist.”

    You are funny. 

    I am an artist and that is the last thing that would comfort me. 

    Happy to have come across your website!

  • poolman

    I was proactive in asking James for advice, but he never replied to my reply of his reply email.  I guess he thought i wanted money.  I was only looking for advice.

    I will find a way and it will work and James will remember me when i am king of the world because I will credit his blog in the longrun.

  • Chris McGrath

    You might enjoy reading the 70 Maxims of Highly Effective Mercenaries (it is from a web comic, but I think you might enjoy the economist’s perspective it adds to the 7 habits)

    (posted this to the wrong one by accident but is now here, sorry about that)

  • Ginger_gal

    One of your best posts. Much better then S. Covey.

  • Well, James, your insightful writing and your excellent marketing strategy have just earned you another purchase on Amazon. (And I thought you were writing just for me. Now I am disillusioned.).

  • The best of James!

  • Chuck

    I think there were 3 posts in here.  Emotional, mental, creative and spiritual goals are too vague a description imho. Some anekdotes, examples would do good here.
    Also when you mention going for what you really want. I think a lot of people could use some tools to help them there. Last thing I wanted to mention is dating when your income is lower than you are used to. Perhaps some tips and tricks and some help with self esteem. All the Best.

  • Loislanew

    Another excellent post.  Thanks James.

  • You spent three pages telling me to get off my ass and start doing rather than thinking.  I’m not sure if that’s criticism of you for needing three pages to get that simple message across to me or criticism of me for needing three pages to get it into my head.  Either way, thank you.

  • Billgbg

    All conflict is internal conflict…
    The I-Ching.

  • Andrew

    One of the top 3 posts on the internet. (close competition with “the moment before the moment” you wrote a few months ago). I (and others in the comments) always wondered how you got involved in so many things!

  • Skunk1980

    Dear James:

    Please write an article on how to figure out what one wants. Having little drive and little desire for much sucks. I feel like Peter in Office Space. If I had a million dollars I would do absolutely nothing. Work is just so boring. But what isn’t boring? Please help!!!


    • Manuel Alvarez

      Hey Skunk,Probably you just need a shrink to medicate you with some Prozac or something like that. I haven’t tried it myself, but I know it makes people insanely and stupidly “efficient” :P

  • Angel Milev

    Nice one, James. I like that habit

  • Carpenter

    This post is very true. “Do things early and often” it used to be called before fancy new words like proactive were invented. It’s like fishing: you can’t wait for the fish to jump up on shore, and you can’t throw out the line only once in a while.

    -You need to get work out of the way early, so you’ll have time for that special event or invitation that shows up unexpectedly. This has enriched my life many times.

    -When looking for a girlfriend I spent countless hours going out, talking to new girls, and also writing on the internet. “Just be yourself” and “You’ll find someone when you stop looking” are advice women give when they don’t want to help and don’t have any ideas, so don’t listen to those two clichés. I had no way of knowing which girl would be interested, so I had to talk to many of them. Meanwhile there are guys who spend many years alone.

    -Working out. This is probably the most useful thing you can do RIGHT NOW to improve your life. And eating healthy. You know how to do it, you know you want to, so do it.

    -And QUIT COMPUTER GAMES. World of Warcraft kills your life. You know you should, so do it.

  • Anonymous

    Re:  Probably the most effective habit: Don’t be proactive about the things you don’t want to do. Else you’ll die.

    Exactly. For such things my motto is “never put-off until tomorrow what you can put-off until the day after tomorrow”–and keep repeating.

    So, whatever happened with Ona?

    • Ona

      20-plus years later, and climbing out of a deep rut, she read this blog and it reminded her of something remarkably simple and remarkably important.

  • Jimbo

    A truly excellent post in the inimitable Altucher style.

    Now, James, can you direct me to a post (of yours? ) that offers  suggestions for overcoming the many negative thoughts and feelings inhibit taking proactive action?   You’ve offered the ‘what’ to do, now for the ‘how’ to do it..

  • Good post as always.  Unfortunately, my library doesn’t have any Kindle versions of your books available for download…

  • Took your advice – emailed thirty prospective customers looking for freelance work. No word yet, but I’ll follow up with phone calls next week. Thanks James. 

  • Cary Duke

    I love the method…just do it. I test a lot of things in my business. My friends and mastermind members always say they can’t keep up with what I’m doing but my business is growing. About to enter into a new market/product offering. My secret? Fail fast! 

    I will either by super successful with this new product, Mobile Websites by January 1 or it will prove to be another test.

  • Thank you so much  – I am currently writing a fiction book – on word 10,000 out of 50,000.  Even though it’s not advancing my business I’m doing it out of pleasure instead of putting it off.  I’m also learning guitar, photoshop, and learning java.  I’m doing all these for fun.  Meanwhile, I’m gunning hard on my major businesses.  I’m doing the visualization thing everyday as well.

  • The quality I noticed that you have – You’re persistent.  It’s truly amazing.  You have a lot of hustle.

  • Thanks for taking 7 habits down to 1. It’s much more practical that way :)

  • While this was a great article, and I appreciate it, I absolutely loved Covey and really didn’t like the fact that you used his death as a springboard to promote your book and article. It’s ok. I’m not up in arms, or going to stop reading your blog, but I thought it should be pointed out.

    • I don’t view anything as a springboard. I just liked his message and this was my appreciation of it.

  • James, don’t know if you monitor the comments on a 9 month old article but, if you do, that’s incredibly narcissistic ;)

    Please write the article “10 ways to find 100 VCs or angels to share your business with.” I promise you a new facebook like for each of the 10.

  • Peykan

    I wish I had read this 15 years ago when I was getting started with a career.

  • karl

    I love this post and really believe that we are not acted upon but we have to act. That we are the masters of our own destinies.
    I would show a little more respect to Mr Covey since he passed away last week due to lingering affects from a cycling accident. I had the opportunity to get to know him and he was an outstanding role model.

    Thanks James for the article.

    • This post was written 9 months ago.

  • pmdz

    your experiences and way of expressing them is just flawless. i’ve read
    almost all your post, some more than once. they makes me feel relaxed,
    stress free. empowers me with hope and makes me think… i liked this one.

  • Prabu Rajasekaran

    James, you are the multivitamin I needed today.

  • albert mark

    blog you guys have conserved there, I absolutely appraise your effort.

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  • Albert jack

    I am confident
    you’ve got a great enthusiast following there.